Portsmouth Pride 2017: Hard not to feel the love

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gayagenda2You could hear them before you could see them: the Leftist Marching Band led the parade of rainbow-adorned marchers toward Prescott Park from the Portsmouth Public Library.

It was really by chance that we were in the perfect spot to watch the parade. We’d taken a short walk over to the park from Strawbery Banke where festivities were already underway in order to steal a moment for ourselves away from the crowd. Little did we know that the crowd was coming to us.

With pounding drums and loud chants the “human rainbow,” as they were pronounced by the coordinators later that afternoon on stage, soon came into view. For each color of the rainbow there was a leading marshal, each of whom was a founding member of Seacoast Outright, the organization that coordinated the Portsmouth Pride event.

Portsmouth Pride was a colorful, loud, and amazing celebration. From the moment we arrived at the puddledock with our friends in tow we were greeted with literally hundreds of smiling faces decked out, as we were, in rainbow garb, ready to mingle with their fellow queers.

Now, we aren’t much for crowds. They make us nervous, and we both like to have our space, yet somehow the crowd was not uncomfortable despite the incredible turn out on this Saturday afternoon. There was such a sense of celebration in the air that it didn’t seem to matter that we were surrounded by all these people. They were like us: ready to spend some time around other LGBTQ folks and feel accepted and understood, and to have some fun in the sun (or rather, like us, run for cover under the giant canopy the event had set up at the end of the field).

Before the marchers even arrived, there were things to do and see. Music was thumping over the loud speakers, and vendors were set up all around the field with pride T-shirts, flags, whistles, cookies and more. There was even a cardboard cutout of the Babadook, a horror movie character which has recently become a queer meme all over the Internet after Netflix mistakenly categorized the movie as LGBT, before later correcting the mistake (the queers do love our memes).

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Portsmouth Pride 2017.

Also under the canopy, we came across UNH Safe Zone’s table, the university’s version of their safe space program which educates people about the LGBTQ community and shows people outside of that community how to be good allies. At this table a student representative was passing out candy, as well as personal pronoun pins including he/him, she/her, they/them, and ze/zir. Another table was selling T-shirts with slogans such as “Love is Love” and the popular “GAY.” (which Emma now owns).

One thing’s for sure, and that is that the Seacoast Outright Organization, which has been around for roughly 25 years, did an OUTRIGHT outstanding job putting this event together through lots of hard work. We got the chance to speak with one of the members of the board of the organization, Jen Scumaci, who also was DJ for the event.

Jen Scumaci has been a Portsmouth resident since 2002. Before that, she lived in Levittown, N.Y. She told us that she was first drawn to the Portsmouth Pride festival three years ago at their first event, where she became overwhelmed by the sense of community and spirit of celebration demonstrated by the people who live in Portsmouth. “From that moment,” she said, “I knew I wanted to be involved in helping to sustain that and help it continue to grow.”

Scumaci informed us that this year, rather than hosting the event in Market Square as they have in the past, Outright made the decision to shift the event instead to Strawbery Banke museum, so that there would be more space that would allow for a marketplace and so that folks would have the room to hang out and enjoy themselves.

She said that they loved having the event at Strawbery Banke, and we are certainly inclined to agree. Because of the openness of the space itself (a large, grassy area on the Strawbery Banke property) it wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder and was very easy to navigate, despite the incredible turnout of around 4,000 people (organizers were only expecting 3,000).

In addition to the different location this year, this was also the first time they planned one march with all the rainbow colors instead of assigning different colors different routes through downtown Portsmouth, as well as more sponsorship opportunities. The program was also a little different than years past. While before there were mostly performers throughout the event, this year there were multiple local speakers, including the mayor of Portsmouth as well as entertainers such as those from Patrick Dorow Productions from over the bridge in Kittery, Maine.

Scumaci really credited the event’s success to the “small but mighty” Seacoast Outright board. An event of this magnitude requires an incredible amount of planning and organization and they really did make this year’s Portsmouth Pride a memorable and meaningful day to everyone that attended, which is so important considering all that pride is.

Pride means something different to everyone. The first pride in U.S. history was a protest, as many prides after that continue to be. To some, including us, it’s a celebration of love and life. When I addressed this question of the personal meaning of pride to Scumaci, she said that she identifies it as a celebration of love and community.

“It’s as simple as that. It’s about all people – with all of their identities, beliefs, hopes, and dreams- coming together in love to celebrate ourselves, each other, and our right to live in this world exactly as we are.”

On a final note from Scumaci she wanted to add a special thanks to everyone that came to celebrate Portsmouth Pride on Saturday: the volunteers, the sponsors, performers, Strawbery Banke Museum, the city of Portsmouth, and specifically the youth crowd that attended, that she hopes feels supported by their community and by Seacoast Outright.

It was hard not to feel the love Saturday. There wasn’t a stern face in the crowd and walking through a crowd of people who are similar to you in a way that feels so fundamental is an incredible feeling. Even despite the heat and humidity, energies and spirits were high in Portsmouth this weekend as the town was filled with people celebrating their right to be uninhibitedly themselves. What a wonderful day. Happy Pride!

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Tori Tucker and Emma Simpson write the column The Gay Agenda for InDepthNH.org, which is co-published on ManchesterInkLink.com

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Tori Tucker, left, was born and raised in Portsmouth. She graduated recently from Keene State College with a major in English-

Writing, with minors in music and German. 

Emma Simpson, right, is a Women’s and Gender Studies major at Keene State College. She is the vice president of her campus a cappella group and involved with Planned Parenthood as a volunteer.

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Tori Tucker and Emma Simpson